Many people have practiced and benefited from the Kundalini yoga meditation Kirtan Kriya, a meditation combining mudra, mantra, and visualization. What some may not know is that several studies have shown the beneficial effects of Kirtan Kriya for Alzheimer’s patients. While at this point there is no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease, anything that can slow the progression of Alzheimer’s can be a blessing for relatives and caretakers. Additionally, a recent study has shown the benefits of Kirtan Kriya for caretakers of Alzheimer’s patients as well.
The Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation (ARPF), founded by Dr. Dharma Singh Khalsa, has been instrumental in studying the effects of Kirtan Kriya on memory and cognitive function. In 2009, a study found that Kirtan Kriya increased brain activity in one of the sections of the brain associated with memory. This area of the brain is the first part to deteriorate due to Alzheimer’s disease, so increased activity there is positive. In 2010, the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease published a study which found improved cognitive function in Alzheimer’s patients who practiced Kirtan Kriya daily for 8 weeks. While the scope of these studies was small in scale, the results are certainly compelling.
For caretakers, there were also promising results. The ARPF studied the effects of Kirtan Kriya on 49 caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients in conjunction with the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Roughly half of the caregivers were instructed to practice Kirtan Kriya for 12 minutes a day, at the same time each day. The other half were told to listen music on a relaxation cd with their eyes closed for the same length of time. At the end of the 8 week study, the caregivers who had practiced Kirtan Kriya showed greater cognitive functioning, and decreased stress levels. The study also showed an increase in enzyme activity relating to the health of human DNA, which is believed to protect the longevity of immune cells in the body. Because stress is shown to negatively impact the immune system, the effects of Kirtan Kriya for caregivers is doubly positive.
In 2011, changes in blood flow to different parts of the brain were detected during different meditation practices. These changes in blood flow were reportedly connected to the personal experience of the person meditating. According to the ARPF, this essentially means that different meditation techniques could be prescribed for different conditions, in the same way a doctor might prescribe a medication. This concept of “meditation as medicine” has been part of Dr. Khalsa’s research for quite some time.
The population of the United States is aging, and various forms of dementia are expected to rise. Very often, relatives become caregivers to loved ones with dementia. Personally, many of us have experienced the pain and stress of Alzheimer’s firsthand. It’s heartening to know that not only are studies being done on the effects of yoga for both patients and caretakers, but that so far the results are promising for both groups. Hopefully the results in the studies carried out so far will lead to additional, larger studies and increased acceptance of yoga as a complementary form of therapy.